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Suicide Exposure in a Polymediated Age

Bell, Jo; Westoby, Christopher



With growing evidence that media plays a vital role in shaping public understanding of suicidality and influencing behaviours, media portrayals of suicidality have for some time been the focus of suicide prevention efforts. Traditional media has changed, and now exists alongside and within an instantaneous, interactive sharing of information created and controlled by anyone; the way most people use it today incorporates a wide variety of online communication media. Polymedia describes media communication as both a product and process, where anyone can contribute and act as producers, consumers, audiences, and critics. In a “Polymediated age,” media exposure becomes much more complex. To understand how media exposure to suicide influences and impacts on others, it is important to take into account the communicative ecology of media technologies and the different interactions we can have with them. We researched the effects of this type of exposure by conducting in-depth interviews with a purposive sample of individuals who have lived experience and/or knowledge of suicide exposure via polymediated communication in the aftermath of a suicide. Using thematic analysis, our data demonstrates how exposure to suicide has become more complex as a result of new communicative media technology: it can be both a gift and a curse, difficult to distinguish, predict or control. Polymedia has the power to determine new forms of narrative and new forms of behaviour that on the one hand can provide support and prevention efforts, while on the other hand can promote conflict and cast an adverse influence on suicidal behaviour. Polymedia provides novel affordances for very intimate collective exposure to suicide. Our findings shed important new light on how the interplay between news media and social media has transformed our relationship with the information to which we’re exposed. We highlight important suggestions for those working in suicide prevention to develop (1) media strategies that recognise the multiple ways in which users are exposed and impacted, and (2) mechanisms for a strategic amplification and moderation of specific types of content. Media organisations and users of social media alike can contribute to maximising the beneficial capacity of polymediated exposure to suicide.


Bell, J., & Westoby, C. (2021). Suicide Exposure in a Polymediated Age. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, Article 694280.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 21, 2021
Online Publication Date Jul 27, 2021
Publication Date Jul 27, 2021
Deposit Date Apr 7, 2022
Publicly Available Date Apr 7, 2022
Journal Frontiers in Psychology
Electronic ISSN 1664-1078
Publisher Frontiers Media
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Article Number 694280
Keywords Suicide; Exposure; Social media; Polymedia; Prevention; New media; Lived experience; Qualitative
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Copyright Statement
Copyright © 2021 Bell and Westoby. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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